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Healing Terrorism Sickness

by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, psychotherapist,
author of Women Who Run With the Wolves,
specialist in Critical Incident and Post-Trauma Management

In terrorism, the numbers of persons affected are huge; terrorism is meant to affect thousands and millions of people -- all at the same time. Most think terrorists' main aim is to kill people and destroy installations. This is only secondary. (Yes, I know that sounds unbelievable, but it is so.) The main goal of terrorism is "intentional trauma" to the living. The murder and mayhem are SECONDARY goals.

The concept of doing ongoing psychic injury to thousands and millions "all at the same time" is an important tactic of terrorists. Terrorists understand, if only in their diseased unconscious, that accomplishing such will unleash a greater communicable and spreading "psychic infection" than any biological or germ warfare could ever hope to achieve.

This "infection" that terrorists hope to circulate is that of innocent persons becoming afraid of life, afraid of the future; of causing people to put off the living of life, to move in ways that are far less than their previous free selves. The effect of living in such a crouch hurts the human spirit and heart. The main goal of terrorism is "intentional psychological trauma." Murder and mayhem are only secondary and sometimes even tertiary goals.

Terrorism is willful psychological assault; a conscious and planned assault against the minds and hearts and spirits of a large group of persons. I repeat this only if it be necessary to press past the reader's ego's resistance to this hideous truth: In terrorism, murder and mayhem are secondary to this primary goal of ruining the hearts and hopes of others. This is partly why terrorism is difficult to comprehend by reasoned minds as anything but the most grotesque form of manifest evil. We can barely conceive of thinking to psychically injure others so.

There are other secondary goals to terrorism. Any and all of them are the sickest imaginable. But the above is how terrorists seek to cast their net of "sickness" over all survivors and victims, over the living -- by trying to deprive you of esperanza, fullest and freely felt Hope. By trying to limit your libre, your Freedom, your living life as a completely free person, shoulders proud, head up, mind on goodness and love for all and pleasures that bring peace and happiness.

There are many ways to cut through this net....

The "post-trauma recovery list" contains the central ways to proceed. Here are some additional which are very specific: It is peculiar to find how Strongly that poisonous net holds when one is unaware of what it is made of, and how easily it falls apart when one consciously begins to contradict its malicious urgings:

Refuse to dwell on what psychically depletes you of hope, contentment and ease. During post-trauma times, sometimes an extremely difficult or disheartening set of thoughts attach themselves to us; almost like a gang cruising around looking to harass someone. Terrorists are counting on this to happen to many.

Refuse this set of thoughts. Use the discipline of your mind. Say to them, "f-off! and I mean it!" If you are an old believer like me, it is as effective to assert, "Get thee behind me!" My grandmother used to say, "Just because someone presents you with a dog poop on a pretty plate doesn't mean you have to eat it."

Dwell in what strengthens you. For some it is reading, others physical activity, others, crafts.

There are so many things and combinations of things. Remember, what brings you peace tends to be the same as what strengthens you.

Clean up your kitchen around food especially, (time to give your body what it needs for its equilibrium and best strength now). Do not assault your own body by making it work extra hard to throw off toxins now. Rest -- real rest, even if only a few hours at night, even if, like many are, awakening many times in the night, do not entertain "bad thoughts," do not allow yourself to fall into a pit of them. Think instead of the greatest beauty and love you know, discipline your mind to stay with those images; they are medicine for what has hurt you. The key words are 'practice discipline.' If you do not know how to discipline your mind, think of how you train a beloved dog to stay and heel. Proceed.

Insofar as you are able, pick your endeavors carefully. Now is an opportunity to drop various endeavors that deplete you or to join up with people/matters/groups that invigorate.

Refuse to think you are less able than you were last week. You are not less. Regardless of flaws, quirks or wobbles -- you are in soul, actually more shining than you were a week ago.

With regard to goodness and things that are good for you and others, do what you always do. Do not cease. Continue to implement life dreams. If you don't have one, you're overdue. Get out your thinking cap. Use your intuition to guide you through these days. It will not fail you. Some call this great gift that every person possesses -- insight, some call it "sense," some, like us old believers, call it Guardian Angel -- which for me incidentally is no small little feathery thing flapping around, but more like a fierce-gentle Guido with wings.

Normal Reactions to Loss, Injury, and Catastrophe

Over a period of time you may find yourself having one or all of the following reactions. These are normal reactions to the kind of experience you have had:

Physical Reactions:
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to sleep
  • Sleeping too much
  • Exhaustion
  • Changes in appetite, digestive disturbances
  • Feeling numb
  • Crying
  • Need for Comfort

Behavioral Reactions:
  • Hyperactivity
  • Poor concentration
  • Inability to attach importance to anything but this event
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Recurrent dreams
  • Inability to remember
  • Refusing to talk
  • Feeling one should not cry
  • Startle reactions while awake or asleep
  • Isolating, wanting to be alone
  • Wanting to just sit, or just stare

Psychological Reactions:
  • Feelings of fear
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Feeling one cannot stop crying
  • Anger, which may cause the blaming of others, outbursts
  • Frustration with rescue workers, the bureaucracy, anyone who tries to help

  • Ongoing violent fantasies
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Amnesia
  • Thinking no one can ever understand, no one can ever help
  • Blaming oneself

These are NORMAL reactions, and although painful, are part of the healing process. There is not a lot anyone can do to make you not experience these feelings, but they will recede if you will take the following actions.

Actions to Take for Recovery

Within the first 24 to 48 hours, do strenuous exercise coupled with relaxation. This will alleviate some of the physical reactions.

Keep busy, do not sit and do nothing. You are having a NORMAL reaction, do not tell yourself that you have lost your mind.

Talk to people; talk is the most healing thing you can do. Talk it out. You may have to tell your story over and over again, many, many times before it loses much of its pain. Each time you tell your story and receive someone's caring, you will be healing yourself.

Try not to cover up your feelings by withdrawing or by using alcohol. Talk your feelings out. As many times as you need to. There is no shame or selfishness in this. You have been through a lot.

Reach out to others. They really do care. Spend time with others. Do not isolate yourself. Ask other people how they are doing. Remember they may be shy to tell a stranger of their burden. Remember, each person telling their story over and over is the way to heal.

In the ensuing days, find things to do that feel rewarding or refreshing. These need not be big things, but things to balance the tragedy you have been through.

When you feel bad, find a person to talk to, and to cry with, to tell of your anger and other helpless feelings. Don't keep it inside.

Your spiritual beliefs will definitely help you through.

You definitely will be able to help yourself and others better if you will cleanse your feelings and accept caring from others.

We all wish to be brave and strong in the face of disaster. We all wish to be looked up to for our endurance and our efforts to help others. If you truly care for humanity, include yourself in their numbers, by giving your own inner feelings the voice and the dignity they so deeply deserve.

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